I was listening to a podcast from Michael Hyatt this week and he was talking about some of the changes he made while CEO of Thomas Nelson, including improvements to the front lobby and initial visitor experience when they came to the company.
One of the big things that I’ve taken away from that podcast (quite honestly I can’t remember what his main points were) is that they stopped calling people visitors and started calling them guests.
“Think about it,” he said, “Visitors implies that somebody doesn’t belong.”
This struck me rather powerfully as a way to improve church experience for new comers. We should stop calling them visitors and instead call them our guests.
Now, I don’t think I call anyone at our church a ‘visitor’, I think I usually say something like, “If this is your first time here or your first time back in awhile….” but I don’t think that’s sufficient after hearing Michael speak. I really like the idea of referring to people as guests, it somehow gives them an inherent value and place of special standing.
Being a visitor implies that you know nothing and have come to learn.
Being a guest implies that you can bring a mutually beneficial role to the relationship.
The more I think about it, the more I see how striking the difference becomes. We want people to join our community, to be a part of us, to experience faith and new life in Jesus. For a visitor, this road can be both difficult and scary. They’ve already been told that they don’t belong, so the incentive is for them to keep coming back until they do.
But for a guest, they already belong, in some sense they’ve been invited to join in and participate. Guests are welcomed warmly, like family coming together during the holidays.
As I’ve thought about this over the last several days, I’ve also started to wonder if some of the predicament that the church finds itself in today (lack of interest, decline in memberships and baptisms) can’t, at least to some degree, be traced back to a guest/visitor mindset. Yes, the American church has done a lot of reprehensible things and has done it’s fair share to isolate people, but I also wonder if we haven’t forgotten that we are told to ‘practice hospitality’ (Romans 12:13).
Think in terms of traveling. Going to another country, they very rarely do anything for visitors, but are always welcoming and receiving guests. They make them feel special, valued, and appreciated. Shouldn’t that be said about us in the church?
Please add to the discussion:
How does your church handle first time attenders? Do you do anything special? What do you call them? What are your plans for followup?